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Review of  English Phonetics and Phonology

Reviewer: Georgios P. Georgiou
Book Title: English Phonetics and Phonology
Book Author: Philip Carr
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 31.1950

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The aim of this book is to present a brief introduction in the phonetics and phonology of the English language. It is intended mainly for students who do not have any previous background on the subject, and for teachers of English as a foreign language since knowledge of English phonetics and phonology is useful for a more qualitative teaching.

The book is divided into fifteen main chapters. The first four chapters include topics in articulatory phonetics. These topics are described briefly, offering an idea of the articulatory features of English vowels and consonants. In particular, the first chapter explains how airstream is used to articulate consonants, and how consonants are divided according to their place and manner of articulation (stops, fricatives, and approximants). Chapter Two continues with consonants, referring to the distinction between central and lateral consonants, taps and trills, affricates, nasal stops as well as the phenomena of aspiration and secondary articulation. Chapter Three talks about the primary cardinal vowels of English and describes the articulatory features of short Received Pronunciation and American English vowels. Chapter Four discusses articulatory features of long vowels and diphthongs of Received Pronunciation and American English.

Chapter Five introduces readers to the phonemic principle. Specifically, it explains the function of phonemes and the allophones, and describes the contexts in which they are found by providing examples from English and other languages.

Chapter Six deals with the English phonemes. First, it presents the English consonant phonemes and makes an important distinction: that of accent and dialect. Second, the phonological form of morphemes is presented and, finally, the chapter ends with the presentation of English vowel phonemes.

Chapter Seven is an introduction to the English syllable structure. It refers to the two most important constituents within a syllable, that is, the onset and the rhyme, and to other aspects relevant to syllable structure such as the sonority scale, the maximal onset, and the syllable weight. Also, this chapter includes a subchapter on phonotactic constraints and another one on syllabic consonants and phonotactics. One other subchapter refers to phonological realizations which can be adequately expressed only with appeal to syllable structure. Finally, the chapter ends with a reference to the morphological and syllable structure and resyllabification.

Chapter Eight introduces the reading audience to the aspect of rhythm and word stress in English. Specifically, first, it is explained what rhythm is and how it applies in English. The next subchapter talks about word stress in English and clarifies whether word stress is a random procedure or not . Furthermore, some general principles on English word stress such as the end-based principle and the rhythmic principle are discussed. The chapter also discusses how word stress assigns in morphologically simple bisyllabic and multisyllabic words, and how word stress assignment is related to morphological structure. One other subchapter explains what compound words are and how the word stress rule applies to these words.

Chapter Nine is focused on rhythm, reversal, and reduction. In particular, it explains more on the trochaic metrical foot, and provides evidence for the metrical foot and the claim that all feet in English are trochaic. The following subchapter attempts a representation of the metrical structure by providing several examples from English words. The next subchapter discusses phonological realizations and foot structure. This chapter also talks about stress-timing, considering that the regular beats in the speech of English speakers can be at more or less equal intervals, and eurythmic structures.

Chapter Ten constitutes an introduction to the English intonational patterns. First, the terms tonic syllable, tones, and intonation phrases are explained by presenting examples from English utterances. In addition, it is mentioned that there are cases in which tonic shifts away from the default position and does not obey the last lexical item rule. The next subchapters discuss the relationship between intonational phrases and syntactic units, tonic placement, intonational phrase boundaries and syntax, tones and syntax, and tonic placement and discourse context.

Chapter Eleven analyzes the association between spelling and pronunciation. At the beginning, the chapter differentiates letters from graphemes. Then, it presents the English vowel and consonant graphemes, both monographs and digraphs (and trigraphs for consonants), and their phonemic values.

Chapter Twelve deals with the variation found in different English accents. Initially, the chapter describes systemic and realizational differences between accents; e.g., the distinction between book/buck (ʊ/ʌ) is not present in many northern English accents. Also, the chapter talks about differences in the lexical distribution of phonemes, which is often found in English dialects.

Chapter Thirteen describes phonological and phonetic aspects of various English accents. Specifically, acoustic features of London English, Tyneside English, and Standard Scottish English sounds are described. Sounds of two American accents, namely, New York City and Texas English, are also described. Finally, the chapter presents the vowel and consonant acoustics of Australian and Indian English.

Chapter Fourteen is focused on how English native speakers acquire the phonetics and phonology of their native language. Specifically, it explains how speech is acquired in the first six months of life, and then this explanation is extended for the second year of life. Among other topics, the perception-production link and the acquisition of English word stress generalizations are discussed. Another subchapter talks about the bilingual child, and it proposes different types of bilingual acquisition context.

Chapter Fifteen highlights how English phonetics and phonology are acquired by second language learners. In particular, types of problems in second language acquisition of English phonetics and phonology are portrayed. These problems emerge at both the phonemic and the phonetic level of the learners’ first languages. Also, the chapter refers to problems that might arise due to the interference of the learners’ first language graphophonemics with the pronunciation of the written word in the second language. Problems of second language learners are extended in regard to the phonotactic level, rhythm and word stress, and intonation. Finally, the chapter ends with some remarks on second language acquisition of English phonetics and phonology.


The purpose of the book is introduce readers to key concepts in English phonetics and phonology. The book covers its goals since the reading audience is provided with the necessary information in order to acquire a basic knowledge on the phonetics and phonology of the English language. The language of the textbook is simple, but still scientific, allowing a basic understanding of complicated phenomena related to phonetics and phonology.

The book is well-structured starting with a brief and simple description of the English vowel and consonant systems and the acoustic features of the English sounds, and continuing with more complicated aspects such as rhythm, stress, and intonation. Another advantage of this textbook is that it allows readers to listen to speech material and respond to exercises in order to better familiarize themselves with the phenomena of each chapter; this material is found as an online database.

The inclusion of chapters on first and second language acquisition is welcome, but some suggestions can be considered. In Chapter 15 ‘Second language acquisition of English phonetics and phonology’, there is some reference to the innateness hypothesis of Chomsky, as well as to the Critical Period Hypothesis and maturational theories of second language acquisition. I would suggest a brief reference on how Chomsky’s hypotheses are related to second language acquisition. Also, it would be nice to briefly present other important theories on second language acquisition, e.g., Acquisition-Learning hypothesis, Input Hypothesis, Monitor Hypothesis (see Krushen, 1981, 1982).

Taking cue from the reference on the learners’ first language interference in the acquisition of second language sounds (p. 194), it is suggested the inclusion of a synoptic description of important speech acquisition models such as the Speech Learning Model (Flege, 1995), the Perceptual Assimilation Model (Best and Tyler, 2007), and the Native Magnet Model (Kuhl et al., 2008). These models make explicit predictions on the perception and production of second language sounds by second language learners on the basis of their first-second language acoustic differences.

Page 195 refers to some problems that second language learners of English might encounter due to the effect of their native phonological or phonetic systems. One of the examples is the difficulty of Greek speakers to correctly articulate the postalveolar fricative [ʃ] and the postalveolar affricate [tʃ] since they are not present in their native language. However, this depends on the speakers’ native Greek dialect. Although Standard Modern Greek speakers might have difficulties with the English sounds [ʃ] and [tʃ], speakers of Cypriot Greek or Cretan Greek can master them just like English native speakers because these sounds are present in the inventory of the aforementioned Greek dialects.


Best, C. T., & Tyler, M. (2007). Non-native and second-language speech perception: Commonalities and complementarities. In O-S. Bohn & M. J. Munro (Eds.), Second language speech learning: In honor of James Emil Flege (pp. 13-34). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Flege, J. E., (1995). Second language speech learning: Theory, findings and problems. In Strange, W. (Ed.), Speech perception and linguistic experience: Theoretical and methodological issues (pp. 233-277). Baltimore: York Press.

Krashen, S. (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Pergamon Press Inc.

Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Pergamon Press Inc.

Kuhl, P. K., Conboy, B. T., Coffey-Corina, S., Padden, D., Rivera-Gaxiola, M., & Nelson, T. (2008). Phonetic learning as a pathway to language: New data and native language magnet theory expanded (NLM-e). Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society B, 369, 979- 1000.
Dr Georgios P. Georgiou is a Postdoctoral Researcher and Temporary Lecturer at the Department of General and Russian Linguistics of RUDN University, Moscow. He is also an Adjunct Lecturer at the Department of Languages and Literature of the University of Nicosia, Cyprus. His research interests include phonetics, phonology, psycholinguistics, and second language acquisition. Currently, he is the Head of RUDN University Phonetic Lab and Principal Investigator in speech acquisition projects.

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